The Art of Plaster

The biggest project in our restoration is repairing the plaster walls.

If you don’t know, plaster is pretty much cement, sometimes held together with horse hair, and laid in layers on top of wood lathes (horizontal strips between the studs). It’s a meticulous and time-consuming process. The end result is a smooth, beautiful, and extremely strong wall.

Repairing plaster is so tedious and expensive, most renovators decide to demolish all the plaster and start new with sheetrock. We were against this decision for three reasons:

  1. Removing the plaster is not a restoration…it’s not preserving the original material of the house.
  2. Plaster is a great solution for making walls even. If we removed the plaster in every room, we’d have a huge challenge making sheetrock straight on old, uneven studs. Remember, this house was built in 1910.
  3. Like I said before, plaster is cement. It’s heavy and dusty, and hundreds and hundreds of pounds would end up in the landfill. What a waste for this house and the environment.

When we purchased the house, several rooms had cracks in the plaster in varying degrees. The approach to repair the plaster is determined by the size of the crack. A structural crack would require tying areas together for a new solid wall. Superficial cracks involve a significantly less amount of material and time.

Following are a few examples of the wall damage.

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Hallway that suffered the most damage from water-pipe break.
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Front room with a structural crack above the fireplace.
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Family room on other side of the hallway.

Some walls were entirely compromised. The hallway downstairs suffered from tremendous water damage due to a pipe break in the bathroom above. The plaster crumbled, so we removed those two walls and replaced them with sheetrock.

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Walls in the hallway after the repair.

The biggest pain-in-the-ass for Jennifer and me was removing wallpaper from many of the plaster walls. This had to be done to ensure quality in the plaster repairs. Because plaster layers have moisture, we couldn’t take a chance that the moisture from the plaster would seep under the wallpaper and compromise the integrity of the wall.

Following are some photos of the plaster process.

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Plaster professional Fred Baldwin Sr. “tying” two walls together.
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Putting on the first coat after the walls are tied together.
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Fred Sr. and Fred Jr. perch on wood connecting their two benches.
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Early plaster layer connects two old plaster walls. An exterior door used to be here.

This week is our last week of plaster repair. Many things await finished wall repair. Trim carpentry, floor finishing, painting. Because our plaster professionals take over every room with scaffolding and bags of material, no one else can work.

Even though this was the costliest and most time-consuming element of this restoration, it’s the most detailed and impactful. The new homeowners will have the strongest, highest-quality, and period-relevant walls.

Historic Hardware

Jennifer and I have spent the last couple of weeks collecting historic hardware for use on the doors throughout the Colclough house.

First, we took a door inventory to ensure that we have all the doors we need. Fortunately, with the exception of the back door, we have enough original doors to cover all entryways inside the home.

Next, we removed all existing hardware from those doors.  Historic hardware is different than modern-day hardware. The interior mechanism is a mortise lock, which makes installing the doors more challenging. We’re also using 12-point glass knobs, which are beautiful! We made three purchases from eBay to complete our collection.

Here’s a look at what we have so far. Check out the mortise locks on the bottom left.

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Many of the items are coated with multiple layers of paint. In small batches, we place the items in the crock pot with water and baking soda. After a few hours, we’re able to easily scrape and pull off the paint and crud.

Finally, we use polish to make the brass shine.

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These small details make a huge impact in this authentic restoration.

A Small Set-Back

Early last week we were robbed. These idiot turds weaseled their way into an open window and pulled apart our electrical wires throughout the house.  Thousands of dollars of damage for a few hundred bucks in copper. Luckily, (we believe) our paint crew came upon them and they ran away. Otherwise, it could’ve been a lot worse.

But, we’re not going to dwell on the negative. We’ve now learned that construction sites are prime targets for theft, no matter the location. With ear-piercing alarms, cameras, and flood lights, we’ll catch those buttholes if they try it again. Plus, the Durham police are keeping an eye on our place. We see them patrolling throughout the day, everyday.

Despite the theft, we accomplished so much last week. We’ll share a couple of photos today of the house’s exterior. Stay tuned for more photos! Lots more to share soon.

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The Fun Part Now Begins

So much work is now complete in our old house. But, most of that work hasn’t been glamorous. Framing and foundation work…plumbing, electrical, and duct work…all inspected and approved.

Now, we finally begin to see the installation of our beautiful material selections. It’s starting to look like a home!

The hardwood floors in our large kitchen were in rough shape. We decided to pull those up and use the good wood to patch the damaged areas throughout the house. Then, we installed an all-new sub-floor. Check out the installation of our brand-new kitchen hardwoods that match the 100-year-old quarter-sewn pine in the rest of the house.

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Tomorrow, the new roof begins installation. The rotten siding is being replaced, and we’ll soon have an outside paint color to show you. And, the plaster repairs begin on Monday.

There are so many fun pictures to come. Light fixtures, tile, faucets, cabinetry, and more. So exciting!

“Ladies Changing Durham”

When we purchased the Colclough house, Jennifer and I met with dozens of contractors. They’d come down the driveway, open the truck door, and exclaim something like “this is quite the project.” Or, “do you two really own this?” Or even, “I’m a little freaked out about going upstairs.” Seriously.

It’s amazing to us just how many of these guys … guys who work on homes every day … had no vision for this house or thought we were crazy for taking on this giant restoration.

But, one guy pulled up, jump out of his truck and exclaimed “Ladies changing Durham!” We immediately loved this guy!

So far, we’ve surrounded ourselves with experts that see the vision and respect that two women can make it happen.

One of those experts is our electrical company Dynamic Electric. Check out Andrea, one of the electricians who wired the entire house. We think she’s pretty adorable along with being a badass! She’s definitely another lady changing Durham!

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Wall-to-Wall Wood

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Have you ever heard the saying “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better”?  Well, that certainly applies to the Colclough house.

As you’ve seen in our previous posts, we removed a few walls to turn three rooms into one big kitchen.  The floors in that new layout were good and bad, with many damaged areas. In other areas of the house, we have some patching to do. Our solution? We removed the entire kitchen floor. The good wood will be used for patching. Anything left will be sold for use in other homes.

As you can see in the photo above, we used one of the front formal rooms as the holding area for all that wood flooring along with a lot of the bead board that we removed from the ceilings. We also tried to remove all the old nails from each strip of wood.

The new kitchen will feature a new subfloor and all new hardwoods using the same cut and species of wood: quarter sewn heart of pine. This is the finest cut of wood used back in 1910.

This week, Sedaris Flooring began to patch all the damaged areas throughout the house. When the house is close to completion, they’ll come back to sand and seal the floors throughout the entire house.